After years of living as refugees, a Christian family has the courage to make a new beginning. Aid to the Church in Need is helping them.
“I will never forget what IS did to us.” Musa is a peaceful, good-humoured man. However, the 63-year-old still gets angry about what his family and the Christians in Iraq suffered at the hands of the Islamist extremists. In August 2014, in the middle of the night, he, his wife and their six children were forced to flee Qaraqosh, which had up until that point been the largest Christian city in Iraq. When the relentless jihadist advance pressed ever closer, the family panicked. They left everything behind and sought refuge in Erbil. For the first few days, Musa and his family lived on the streets, sleeping on the ground. The influx of 120 000 refugee Christians in such a short space of time was simply too much for the city to cope with. But soon the family found shelter fora few weeks in a classroom with 25 other refugees. The next few years were spent in a small flat shared with another family. As with thousands of other Christian families, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) paid for the rent. The family would not have been able to afford it on their own. Musa, a car mechanic, did not find any work in Ozal City, a settlement not far from Erbil. At least his wife was able to work as a teacher of Aramaic, the language of the Christians. But her wages were very small. The chance to return home came only in November of 2017. “I was shocked when I saw our city again for the first time. So much was destroyed. It was particularly devastating to find our house completely empty. Everything had been stolen,” Musa recalls. He still does not know who looted and damaged his house. Was it the IS fighters or neighbours from one of the surrounding Muslim villages? “I don’t really care. What’s done is done.”
Thousands of families have suffered the same fate as Musa. Having supported Iraqi Christians while they were refugees, the Catholic charity ACN is now helping them return home. Returning was never up for debate for Musa, “As difficult as it is here: anyone who comes from Qaraqosh, as my ancestors and I do, will always come back here.” With ACN’s help, Musa’s house has been made habitable again. Fortunately, the damage was within limits. The windows and doors had to be renewed, the rooms repainted. The family has to replace the furniture themselves. However, they now feel at home again. “I am deeply grateful to the benefactors for their help. We would not have been able to return home without their help.”
Musa’s daughter agrees with her father. Miray is 25. She works as a nurse at the local hospital. She had to interrupt her studies in Mosul in 2014 when IS continued to advance. She was only able to resume them in Erbil after a delay. However, she still considers the time in exile to have been productive. “I was able to help the people as a nurse. That was a very good experience for me.” In general, the young woman believes that the people grew closer together during the years in exile despite all of the adversities they faced. “I thanked God that the people opened up to one another. Before, it was all about material things. Larger houses, more money. I hope that the people have realised that life is about more than that.” She asks that the benefactors of ACN not only provide material, but also spiritual aid. “We need your prayers.” Miray’s faith in God was put to the test during the years in exile, but in the end became stronger. “I felt very clearly that God was with us.” The young woman believes that her future is in Iraq, even though she is worried about the security situation. She would like to continue her studies and become a physician. “The best thing to do would be to study in another country. The conditions are better there. I am already saving my money for this. But I definitely want to return to Iraq to serve my people.”